Bridging the Divide

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  (Rom 8:35)

The mood in our country, USA, is certainly different from what we have grown accustomed to in previous years. Thanks to modern news media, millions of us were witnesses to indelible images that overwhelmed our capacity to make sense of what we saw as the World Trade Centre was destroyed. We are left to ponder questions like: who, why and what next?

Since the World Trade Centre attack there has been a great increase in interest in Islam.

Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, worships the same God who spoke to Abraham. This religion shares many of the same prophetic revelations, especially that there is but one God. The holy Qur’an refers to 25 prophets, and considers, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad as the most significant.

Jesus in the Qur’an

Islam does not recognise Jesus as Lord, or the Son of God, but speaks of his virgin birth and considers him to have performed miracles and to be one of God’s greatest messengers.

For us Catholics, with our love of the blessed Mother, it is especially interesting that Islam regards Mary as the purest woman in creation. The Qur’an contains more passages about Mary than the New Testament.

But having said that, do we have knowledge about Islam that will help us understand this religion?  Probably not, we should have no illusions that our religions are really the same.

In any religion, there are different elements:  theology, law, belief and practice.  It seems to me that in Islam, law and practice certainly are more important that theology and belief.

There are deep cultural differenc between the followers of Islam and Christians. But taking cultural differences seriously doesn’t mean we should not be open to learning more about the other religion.

Living harmoniously

Our Columbans in Pakistan, through daily contacts and in-depth discussion with Muslim friends, are convinced of the value of their ministry; they are ready to work together and talk through differences. They must demonstrate this conviction by their manner of living which reveals that living together harmoniously is not just a possibility, but a necessity.

“In paradise there are rooms... Allah has prepared for those who feed the poor, who are gentle in speech who fast regularly and who pray at night when people are asleep.” How these words from the Qur’an mirror the beatitudes of Christianity. True knowledge of religion breaks down barriers.

A serenity based in faith

For those dedicated to a productive meeting of people across cultures, the work is urgent and immense.  Where is the source of serenity?  Etty Hillesum, in her letters from the Westerbork concentration camp published as “An Interrupted Life,” wrote the following, “It all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful.  And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call ‘horror’ and still be able to say, life is beautiful.”

Fr John Burger is currently on the General Council of the Columban Fathers.

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